All Saints' Day
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 11:32-44 Sermon
November 1, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
587 "Jerusalem My Happy Home"
144 "For All The Saints"
595 "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand"
115 "Golden Harps Are Sounding"
A TIME FOR EMOTION
TEXT (vs. 35): "Jesus wept."
Last year, I attended the 2008 AFLC Church Convention that was held in Oklahoma City. It had been quite a few years since I had been there, so I took some vacation time after the convention was over for a little rest and relaxation.
One of the things I wanted to see was the site where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building had once stood. So I followed my GPS unit that guided me south down Robinson Avenue, which took me past the eastern side of the memorial. Then I turned the corner and headed west down NW 4th Street, and then I went back up north on Harvey Avenue, where I found a parking place across the street on the western side of the memorial.
When I got out of the car, nothing could have adequately prepared me for what I was about to see. Leading up to the entrance of the memorial, there was a chain link fence set up where people had placed all manner of floral tributes. From the amount of flowers there, it was quite obvious that many people were still grieving over that tragedy.
But the thing that stood out the most to me was directly across the street from the memorial site, right in front of where I parked my car. There on the corner, in sort of a small park-like place, stood a life-size statue of Jesus. The statue is facing away from the site. Jesus has his head bowed and his right hand is shielding his face. The caption under the statue are the words of the shortest verse in the whole Bible, John chapter 11 verse 35 which reads: "Jesus wept." That statue is the one pictured on your bulletin cover this morning (or at the beginning of this page if you're reading this on the internet website).
I guess I really didn't know what to expect. But my first reaction was to get a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. The initial scene was very moving indeed, and the statue of Jesus was very appropriate.
The date of the Oklahoma City bombing was April 19, 1995. The east and west gates into the memorial have inscribed the times of 9:01 am and 9:03 am respectively. Those two minutes of time was all it took to unleash the worst incident of domestic terrorism in history, where one American attacked his fellow citizens. Between the east and west gates is a long reflective pool that represents those two horrible minutes of time. The peaceful and tranquil water is there to mark what was one of the most violent two minutes that city had ever known. Sixteen miles away in Norman, Oklahoma, a seismograph used to measure earthquakes, recorded the blast at 3.0 on the Richter Scale.
Property damage was almost unreal. The Ryder truck that Timothy McVeigh drove contained explosives equal to over 5,000 pounds of TNT. One-third of the nine story building was destroyed. The explosion left a 30 foot wide by 8 foot deep crater in the ground where the truck was. 324 buildings in a 16 block radius were damaged or destroyed. Glass was shattered in another 258 nearby buildings. 86 cars around the site were also destroyed, which caused secondary explosions from the vehicles fuel tanks. Several hundred people were homeless and many offices in the area had to be shut down. As a result, the estimated property damage value exceeded 652 million dollars.
Of course this pales in comparison to the loss of human life. 168 people ranging in ages from three months to seventy-three years lost their lives, 19 of which were children. Three unborn children also lost their lives. Over 680 people were injured, mostly from severe burns, fractures, and contusions. The broken glass alone accounted for 5% of the death total and 69% of the injuries outside the Murrah Federal Building. Otherwise, most of the deaths resulted from the collapse of the building, rather than the bomb blast.
As you look on the south side of the reflecting pool, you will see a memorial for each of the victims in the shape of a chair, with smaller chairs for the victims who were children. And behind that, is what remains of the south wall of the building itself.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The place where violence and havoc and tragedy once occurred has now been replaced with peace and serenity and beauty. It's obvious that even after almost fifteen years, people are still hurting and grieving. Indeed, many lives have been touched by this tragic event.
And just outside stands the statue of Jesus, and he is weeping. In the midst of tragedy and heartache and death and destruction, Jesus weeps. In the midst of healing and comforting and reconstruction and hope Jesus weeps. For those who are themselves weeping as they are seeking consolation and closure, Jesus weeps with them. Unlike any human on earth, Jesus knows exactly how we feel at any given moment, and he's there to be with us in whatever way we need him to be.
Today on this All Saints' Day, we are presented with a picture of Jesus that we don't otherwise see; it's a picture of him shedding tears at the death of his friend, Lazarus.
Jesus had an interesting relationship with Lazarus, and also his two sisters Mary and Martha. They lived in the small hamlet of Bethany, about ten miles east of Jerusalem. These were friends of Jesus. The 12 Apostles were the companions of Jesus and travelled around with him and worked with him. Certainly they had a close relationship. But when Jesus needed to relax and unwind and enjoy a meal and some more casual conversation, he would wind up at the house of his friends--Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Lazarus became ill, and so they sent for Jesus to come. But before he arrived, Lazarus died. He had been buried in a tomb long enough for his body to start decomposing, to the point where there was a strong odor.
Mary approaches Jesus in tears. She is mourning the loss of her brother. Other mourners were there as well. Jesus was feeling the same grief they were, and so his reaction is the same as theirs. He weeps.
One of the great theological truths we know is that Jesus is both true God and true man. He has both a divine nature and a human nature. He's not half man and half God, but is fully both at the same time. It's because of this that Jesus fully understands humanity. And he not only knows it, but he's lived it too.
We often talk about Jesus, and how he knows our temptations and weaknesses. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15 is the definitive verse for this: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin."
Okay, fair enough. Jesus knows our weaknesses and our temptations because he is fully human. But this needs to extend to the entire gamut of human emotions. Emotions are not signs of weakness, but very real and true feelings.
For example, Jesus exhibits anger, albeit a "righteous wrath," and not sinful hatred. He unleashes it against such people as the Pharisees and the money changers in the temple court. He also exhibits compassion on many occasions, like with the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery. He expresses sorrow in Matthew chapter 23 verse 27 where he says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Even though the Bible doesn't expressly say it, we could safely assume that Jesus would have shed a tear or two in this instance.
But at the death of Lazarus, this is the only place the Bible tells us that Jesus actually broke down and openly wept. By doing this, everybody, especially Mary and Martha knew that they weren't alone in their feelings of grief and mourning. Through his tears, Jesus was able to express is love for his friend.
The whole situation here is very effective too. By Lazarus being dead for four days and there being an odor, Jesus does what only God can do. Jesus brings him back to life again. The human emotion in conjunction with divine power is clearly demonstrated here.
As we read through the whole story, both Martha and Mary show their hope and trust in Jesus. They knew that Jesus could have cured their brother, and that there wasn't anything he could do. But they probably thought that having Jesus raise him from the dead would be asking too much.
In the verses just before our Gospel lesson this morning in John chapter 11, we can see just how deep Martha's faith was, and how much she understood what was going to happen. Reading verses 21-27: "'Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' 'Yes, Lord,' she told him, 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.'"
Jesus had taught this family well. They had the hope of the resurrection at the last day, and the assurance of eternal life in heaven. They knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour for the world. Everything about Jesus gave them comfort and hope.
But even so, the pain of mourning and the sting of death was there too. Lazarus was going to be missed by those who knew and loved him.
We know that God created humanity to live forever. Death wasn't part of God's plan. But when man fell into sin, God's perfect creation was ruined. God's image was dashed to pieces. And with that comes the consequences of sickness, misery, and earthly death.
Jesus gives us the hope that our earthly death doesn't mean our eternal death. That's where our faith comes in to play. We can look forward to what lies beyond the grave. We can have the assurance that all our sins will be forgiven through faith in Christ. And because we share in his death through faith, we shall also share in his life for all eternity.
Within a year after the Oklahoma City bombing, the statue of Jesus weeping was erected by St. Joseph's Catholic Church on their property across the street from the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Why is Jesus weeping? Is it because of man's inhumanity to man? Is it because of the people who died there? That's probably part of the reason, but it's not the most important one.
People who visit the statue and the memorial have often wondered why the statue of Jesus is facing away from the memorial. Is it because he turns his back on tragedy and human suffering? Nothing could be further from the truth.
When people come to the memorial site to remember a loved one, or to grieve, or to shed a tear, they can sit on a bench in front of the statue. You see, the statue doesn't face the site of the wreckage; instead, it faces those who come to mourn. The faithful Christians who lost their lives in the Oklahoma City bombing are safe in the arms of Jesus right now. He's taking care of them. Now he needs to be with those who are mourning and sad. For those people who remain, they need to know without a doubt that they do not weep alone. Just like at the death of Lazarus, Jesus weeps with those who weep. Jesus knows and understands.
The Oklahoma City memorial is well worth visiting if you ever have the chance. And when you do, take a few moments to visit the statue of Jesus weeping. Then remember that your Saviour is always there for you, however you happen to be feeling. Also remember the words of encouragement that the Apostle Paul shares with the Romans in chapter 8 verses 38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."